Excerpt from Sumana Hariharshwara's column in Inside Bay Area, May 28, 2005:
... But even non-myth-gluttons will appreciate "Tales From Indian Epics" (South Asia Books, $28) by Holalkere R. Chandrasekhar. Chandrasekhar revisits many Indian folktales and legends, explaining just enough for the lay reader to understand the customs and rules of the culture. Each tale is suitable for standalone reading, but they also fit into a comprehensible timeline with recurring alliances and rivalries.
Chandrasekhar reinterprets the tales with a benevolent eye. Even the villains have motives worthy of sympathy. I found it pleasing to compare "Tales from Indian Epics" to the source that taught me the legends years ago: Amar Chitra Katha, the Indian comic book series. You can find ACK in many Indian clothing/spice/video shops throughout the Bay Area, as well as online at www.amarchitrakatha.com.
Another online destination for Indian mythology: Nina Paley's online Sitayana animations, which reinterpret the Ramayana in a wholly female-centered fashion, at www.ninapaley.com.
As for "Tales From Indian Epics," I strongly recommend it, but you may have to order it online at a site such as www.bookfinder.com, as it's published by a small press in India. The book identification number for ordering is 0-9711223-0-X. The author is a friend of my father's, I must disclaim. Does it count if I can't remember ever meeting him? The author, not my father.
Sumana Harihareswara's column appears in Bay Area Living on Thursdays. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review in Lokvani: http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=1596
Book Review - Tales From Indian Epics
In the very first story in the Tales from Indian Epics, Brahma urges Valmiki to write the poem of the Ramayana thus "Thousands of years hence, this story will be told and retold. Many authors will interpret it in plays and ballads. Children will act out skits in languages yet to be born. People of alien races and cultures, clad in strange costumes, speaking stranger tongues, and living in lands far away from here will listen to this tale and admire it."
Taking a cue from this story, Holalkere Chandrasekhar, the author of this book seems to have done just that. He has rewritten some of these timeless classics in a clear, engaging and entertaining manner. The book is an affirmation that one can hold on to the authenticity of the original epics and at the same time express ideas suited to the world around us.
The selected stories reflect the theory that meaningful stories are those that cannot be static; our selections and interpretations of stories change from age to age. On this aspect, the author comments "Most of the stories can be found in Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Bhagawatha, which are the quintessential works of ancient India . The stories are slightly different in detail and emphasis in these books. I have synthesized different versions in some stories. In others I have modified them."
In the foreword to the book, for instance he writes "Ancient cultures, being predominantly patriarchal, depict women in subordinate roles. In order to be respected, women are expected to be virtuous and submissive." While preserving the spirit of the old narrators for the sake of historical accuracy, he admits that he has "adapted the characters to reflect the sensibilities of the modern reader." Chandrasekhar's depiction of the Rama and Sita story is one example. He says "It substantially differs from popular versions (Valmiki, Tulsidas and Kamban) but I believe that is the way it actually happened." Moving away from the original narration, he depicts the woman to be strong, independent and free spirited. In Shakuntala , for example when Dushyant fails to recognize her because of the loss of the ring, she walks away from him spiritedly saying she would not bear another word of insult. Similarly Devayani, Urvashi and Savitri act with courage and wit in their circumstances.
When Chandrasekhar wrote this book he says "I had my children in mind when I thought of writing the book. I have had very good response from children as young as 9 and people as old as 70. I wanted to give a modern perspective to these ancient tales without compromising their integrity. Young people are curious about our ancient epics but have the difficulty of language (originals are in Sanskrit and the translations are voluminous and often hard to read.) I wanted to bring the characters and incidents alive in these tales so that they are relevant to us now."
On the response to this book he comments "I am grateful that the response has been so good. I have had a number of emails and I have compiled them into a word file. One person wrote that his mother, who is seventy, sat up all night and read the book from cover to cover. I can understand that. Most of us grew up in India listening to these tales. We are nostalgic about them. That explains the response of older people. The book has brought in responses from several Indian cultural groups according to the author who have bought books in bulk and distributed to their kids. Several others have come back to buy it for their friends and family."
Tales from Indian Epics has a total of 29 tales in all and includes classics such as Shakuntala, Damayanti, Savitri, Bhagirath, Harischadra,Urvashi, and Devayani. It also includes rare stories such as Astika, Jadabharata and Madalasa, abridged versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and stories from the Bhagawat Purana. The illustrations are by Pramila Vishwanath.
*****Review by group of youngsters from Columbia , Missouri , December 18, 2002
A group of youngsters and their parents have been enthralled by Dr. Chandrasekhar's stories - narrated to the Bal Puja group over the past 4 years. The book captures only a part of all the stories he regaled them with and he is being encouraged to continue with another book. Comments from the youngsters in the group are provided below:
"Listening to stories from Chandra uncle, I learnt a lot about Hindu mythology. Each story has a moral and give us food for more thought" (Arjun, 4th grade)
"I enjoyed my Dad telling me stories and they were slightly different from the version that Chandra Uncle told us - I found out that both of them had heard it from their grand parents, who all have slightly different versions, but they were so much fun!" (Nidhi, 2nd grade)
"I really like the depth and expression you put into your nice stories" (Natasha, 5th grade)
"The book does a nice job of bringing the character and situations in stories alive in the minds of the readers" (Sneha, 7th grade)
"His stories have added considerably to our educating our community youth" (Sheila, 7th grade)
"I did not realize that there is such a wealth of knowledge and information in the Indian epics which Chandra uncle brings to life in his unique ways in the book" (Ajay, 7th grade)
"Chandra uncle's stories really teach us something and I am glad I have the opportunity to hear them from him" (Sachin, 3rd grade)
"It teaches me things that I want to know about Indian culture in an entertaining way." (Sajal, 3rd grade)
"The stories were good. They were special because we knew many of the stories already. The stories were detailed but clear, and helped us understand Indian mythology. I think that Chandrasekhar uncle wrote a great book" (Sangita, 6th grade)
"I really liked the stories from his book - they are great!" (Sagar, 7th grade)
I especially liked the way Dr. Chandrasekhar relates the stories to the present times, making these age-old stories and ideals relevant to our present generations. This book is a keeper; truly a book for all ages!" (One parent, summarizing for many)